Malta’s Crucial Role in the Journeys of Early Aviation Pioneers

In the early 1920s and 1930s, Malta served as a crucial stopover for numerous aviation pioneers embarking on daring journeys from Britain to Africa, Australia, and the Far East. Let’s take a closer look at their biographies and remarkable adventures.

By Frederick Galea

Air Commodore Charles Rumney Samson

This son of a Solicitor from Manchester was destined to play one of the leading roles in the development of naval air power during the early part of the 20th Century. In 1910, he was one of the first four Naval officers selected to undertake pilot training, gaining his RAeC Certificate (No.71) on 25 April 1911. As CO of Eastchurch he was also in charge of the Naval Wing, RFC and as such remained primarily involved in the development of aircraft for naval purposes. Amongst the numerous experimental flights he carried out were the first take offs from both a ship at anchor (in the UK) (Short-Sommer Pusher Biplane from HMS Africa on 10 January 1912) and a moving ship (same aircraft as on 10 January, this time from HMS Hibernia on 2 May 1912). He was also involved in developing bomb dropping sights and equipment as well as conducting early night landing trials (without lights).


With the outbreak of WW1, the Eastchurch Squadron was sent to Ostend in Belgium in order to combat the expected Zeppelin menace and it was from here that Charles Samson carried out the first night bombing mission in history on 12 December 1914 in a Maurice Farman aircraft (No.1241). It was at this time that he instituted the use of armoured cars to attack German lines of communications and in September 1914 used both aircraft and cars to occupy Lille. The composite unit he commanded consisted of the Ben-my-Chree, Empress, Anne, Raven II and the air unit at Port Said.

   Another field of air warfare in which he was involved in developing was that of strategic bombing. In 1917, he was appointed commander, once again, of 3 Wing RNAS now tasked with carrying out attacks on targets well behind the enemy lines and equipped for the purpose with the large Handley Page 0/100 bomber. Returning from the Middle East he was given command of the group based at Great Yarmouth and here he set about even more pioneering work designing lighters from which Camels could be flown in order to intercept Zeppelins over the North Sea. He conducted the first sea trials himself and very nearly died when his aircraft fell over the bow and the lighter ran over both him and the aircraft. However following modifications the idea proved highly successful and by the end of the war pilots under his command had shot down five Zeppelins. However, before that he returned to the Middle East once again, this time as Chief Staff Officer, and it was in this appointment that he carried out his last great pioneering feats. In 1926 and 1927, he led two record breaking flights, the first, a return flight from Cairo to Aden (16 – 29 September 1926) and the second from Cairo to Cape Town (30 March – 22 May 1927).

The routes used by Samson and the facilities established on the journey would later be used to establish the civilian air routes of Imperial Airways and other airlines. However, having suffered personal trauma resulting in divorce he retired early but remarried in 1924, however, his problems had taken their toll and he died in 1931 at the age of 47.

Sir Alan Cobham

1924 – Alan Cobham’s First Survey Flight. Early in the autumn the redoubtable Alan Cobham flew his DH.50 biplane (Siddeley Puma engine) from London to Tangier in a day, back to Toulouse the next day, and on to London just after noon on the third day. Altogether he flew nearly 3,000 miles in 28 hours, a fine prelude to the first of his famous long-distance survey flights – a journey of 17,000 miles from London to Rangoon and back – on which he and Air Vice-Marshal Sir Sefton Brancker, then Director of Civil Aviation, were engaged when the year ended.

1925 – Alan Cobham’s Second Long-distance Survey Flight. Again the last days of the year found Alan Cobham engaged on a long-distance survey flight – this time a trip from London to Cape Town and back, following in Africa the route now operated by Imperial Airways. His DH.50 plane had been modified to take a considerably more powerful engine—a 385-hp air-cooled Siddeley Jaguar unit. Again Mr A.B. Elliott went with him to care for aeroplane and motor; Mr Emmott, an expert cinematographer, completed the crew. Outstanding in the history of the early stages of the long journey was the crossing over 400 miles of the Mediterranean. Though the airmen flew out of sight of land for more than two hours they made accurate landfall on the African coast, which was crossed at exactly the point intended.

First Flight, Cape Town to England. The return trip to London was made in much quicker time than the outward flight. The aeroplane ascended from Cape Town on 26 February, reached Khartoum on 5 March, Cairo on 7 March, and landed on 13 March at Croydon aerodrome, London, where a great welcome greeted the airmen. By this flight Cobham established his reputation high in the esteem of his fellow countrymen; the African trip and his previous exploits had shown beyond doubt that he was an aerial navigator and flight organizer of outstanding ability.

First England-Australia-England Flight. Cobham’s greatest flight – from England to Australia and back – began on 30 June. This time his trusty DH.50 biplane (385-hp Armstrong-Siddeley Jaguar engine) was equipped with floats, instead of landing wheels, and the crew was limited to Cobham himself and his friend and engineer, Mr A.B. Elliott. Cobham held the view that the route to Australia was more fitted for seaplane than for landplane working, and his plans were directed accordingly. The trip began with a series of fast, well-timed flights from Rochester to Naples, and on by way of Athens, Alexandretta, and Baghdad, which was reached on the fourth day out from England. Between Baghdad and Basra tragedy halted the enterprise. At a point on the Tigris valley, about 120 miles from Basra, a crash in the cabin attracted Cobham’s attention and he looked through the porthole to see Elliott in a heap and bleeding profusely. An Arab, inspired either with hatred of the white man or simply with a capricious desire for destruction, had fired at the machine as it swept by overhead. His aim was all too good. Elliott had his arm broken and a bullet deep in his lung, and, though Cobham tore on to Basra with the engine running at full throttle, and rushed him to hospital, Elliott died of his injuries a few hours later.

Cobham’s Third Long-distance Survey Flight. Cobham’s journey in the Short Singapore I flying-boat showed equally how organization can triumph still more successfully over the mishaps of travel. His flight, too, tells a story of success attending iron determination. The big biplane, which was equipped with two 650/700-hp Rolls-Royce Condor engines, ascended from the river Medway at Rochester on 17 November. Malta was reached eight days later, after a flight in difficult weather by way of Bordeaux, across southern France to Marseilles, and down the coast of Italy. The boat was moored out in the harbour at Calafrana, Malta. The winter storms of the Mediterranean, dreaded by seamen since the days of the Phoenician navigators, set up a heavy swell. One wing-tip float of the big aeroplane was carried away and a desperate attempt was made to drag it to comparative safety on the seaplane slipway. But the gathering storm and the inherent difficulties of handling so large a craft, without suitable gear, caused further trouble. In spite of stupendous efforts the machine proved uncontrollable in the hands of the rescue party, and it was dropped heavily on the slipway, smashing the lower port wing.

1928 – A new wing was built at Rochester and rushed out to Malta, where the less important repairs demanded by the mishap were made. Satisfactory test flights of the repaired machine took place on 8 and 9 January, and preparations for continuing the flight were almost completed when again the power of the wind smote the big boat as it lay at its unavoidably exposed anchorage. Early in the morning of 10 January the Singapore I broke away from moorings in a gale and was driven on to the beach. This time the hull was slightly damaged. Repairs ware quickly executed and the flight was continued without further incident a few days later. On 23 January the flying-boat alighted at Aboukir, and early in February, after a journey up the valley of the Nile, Kisumu was reached. Cobham steered a course completely round Lake Victoria and then returned to Khartoum.

   On 12 February the journey southwards from Khartoum was resumed with a hop of 820 miles to Mongolia, which was accomplished in eight hours. For many miles the aeroplane flew through clouds of smoke and ash which rose to a height of 4,000 ft. from grass fires raging below. The expedition reached Beira in Portuguese East Africa on 3 March, and Durban on 8 March. Since the start from Rochester the machine at that point had completed 150 flying hours. Cape Town welcomed the party on 30 March, and after a stay of a few days the journey was continued up the west coast of Africa, proceeding without deviation from schedule till a leaking water radiator obliged a forced landing in Fresco Bay, Ivory Coast, on 15 April. Such an incident in a remote region obliged considerable delay but on 15 May the boat was at Free Town, Sierra Leone, on 19 May at Bathurst, in the Gambia, a week later at Gibraltar and on 4 June the long voyage ended at Rochester.

   Altogether the Singapore I had flown 20,000 miles. The flight provided much valuable information about flying conditions all along the waterways in and around Africa which are available for marine aircraft; in many ways it was the most important voyage yet made through African air.

Lady Mary Bailey

Another long distance flight that staged through Malta 80 plus years ago was that made by Lady Bailey when she left London on 9 March 1928 in a de Havilland Moth biplane. Lady Bailey had to make several stops including one at Hal Far air-field in Malta. Lady Bailey was born Mary Westenra, daughter of the 5th Baron Rossmore. She married Sir Abe Bailey at the age of 20. The Malta Herald newspaper of 15 March 1928 reported Lady Bailey’s arrival: ‘Lady Bailey flying a de Havilland Moth aeroplane (Cirrus Mark II engine) arrived at Hal Far from Catania at 2.00pm today (15 March 1928). Lady Bailey is flying unaccompanied to Cape Town and proposes to leave for Homs at 7.00am tomorrow (16 March 1928) where she will refuel and at once continue the flight as far as Benghazi.’

Another Maltese newspaper, The Daily Malta Chronicle gave more details in two separate news items about Lady Bailey’s flight to South Africa; the 16 March 1928 issue reported the arrival of the de Havilland Moth: ‘Well known woman aviator, Lady Abe Bailey, landed at Hal Far at 2.00pm yesterday (15 March 1928) from Catania. Lady Bailey described her flight as ‘uneventful’, but that was hardly the case. Lady Bailey’s airplane was a standard de Havilland DH.60 Moth, registration G-EBSF, which she had purchased from Captain Geoffrey de Havilland, the airplane’s designer. It was powered by a Cirrus II engine which produced 80-hp. An auxiliary fuel tank was installed in the forward cockpit, giving the Moth an endurance of 10½ hours.

The first stage of her flight involved crossing the English Channel. She encountered severe weather, gale force winds, followed by fog. Unable to see any landmarks, she landed twenty miles short of Paris, at Sacy-le-Petit, then continued to Le Bourget in a snowstorm. The following day Lady Bailey and her Moth left Paris for Lyons, again in snowstorms. Her compass was malfunctioning, but she was able have it repaired when she arrived. The next leg of the flight was another over-water flight, crossing the Gulf of Genoa en route Pisa.

Lady Bailey proposes to limit flights to 300-400 miles a day. ‘Lady Bailey is a very experienced pilot, and her present flight is a pleasure trip and she had drawn no timetable. Lady Bailey proposes to resume flight at 7.00am today (16 March 1928). She will be flying to Homs where she will refuel and will at once, continue the flight as far as Benghazi. Afterwards, she will proceed to Cairo and along the Nile following the same route to Cape Town as that taken by Lt Bentley on his flight to Cape. When leaving Croydon, Lady Bailey carried only two small suitcases with her in the aeroplane.’

Lt Bentley mentioned by the Maltese paper had made two return flights from Croydon to Cape Town in 1927-29 for which he won the Air Force Cross and the Britannia Trophy. More information about Lady Bailey and her flight was carried in The Malta Herald of 16 March 1928: ‘In our issue of yesterday we published the news that Lady Bailey arrived here at 2.00pm yesterday (15 March 1928) and was expected to leave today (16 March 1928) for Homs. Lady Bailey is the wife of Sir Abe Bailey, the South African millionaire. She has started her lonely flight to the Cape from Croydon in a light airplane. The flight is being undertaken as a holiday cruise to enable Lady Bailey to visit friends along her route. There is no attempt to establish records, Lady Bailey taking plenty of time on the journey. The airplane is her own machine. She has taken with her only small suitcases.

‘I mean to travel light,’ she said to a friend before her start, ‘and make a comfortable holiday trip of it. ‘The first stop was at Paris. She has flown over Italy, and has now arrived in Malta. She will proceed to Homs and thence to Egypt, and the Sudan. Her machine, a de Havilland Moth, can fly for 10 hours, without replenishment of petrol. Lady Bailey was recently classified by the International League of Aviators as ‘the outstanding woman aviator of 1927′. She was also awarded the international trophy for women for her altitude record – 18,000ft – for light airplanes. She took her pilot’s certificate in 1926, and flew alone after only 10 hours’ instruction.

Lady Bailey has flown from London to Doncaster to see the St Leger, and was the first woman to fly over the Irish Sea alone. She has beaten Lady Heath (Mrs Elliot-Lynn) in a race at Birmingham, in which three men also were unsuccessful. She has had a number of narrow escapes, but has always escaped serious injury. Sir Abe Bailey is at present in South Africa. The distance Lady Bailey expects to cover is about 8,000 miles.’ The issue of The Daily Malta Chronicle dated 17 March 1928 reported Lady Bailey’s departure: “Lady Abe Bailey flying a de Havilland Moth to Cape Town, resumed her flight from Hal Far at 7.40am yesterday (16 March 1928) for Homs en route to Benghazi. Lady Bailey landed at Tripoli at 12.30pm.’ Before touching down at Hal Far, Lady Bailey stopped at Le Bourget near Paris, Lyons and Marseilles in France; Pisa, Rome, Naples and Catania.

On her departure from Hal Far, Lady Bailey was escorted by three Fairey IIIDs of 481 Flight. According to the Operational Record Book of RAF Calafrana, this escort by 481 Flight’s IIIDs was a usual feature in the departure of civil aircraft from Malta in those days. At Cairo the Egyptian government refused to allow her to continue, fearing for her safety. Her airplane was seized and placed under armed guard. Not until a British lieutenant, who was flying to Cairo, agreed to escort her, was Lady Bailey allowed to continue. She took off and flew south along the Nile and arrived at Luxor on 28 March.

From there, Lady Bailey encountered sandstorms with high winds and reduced visibility and intense heat. On 10 April, as she landed at Tabora, German East Africa (now known as Tanganyika), at 4,000 feet (1,220 meters) above Sea Level, her DH.60 Moth flipped over. A wing spar was broken and the fuselage heavily damaged. G-EBSF was unable to continue the journey. Sir Abe Bailey, Lady Bailey’s husband, purchased another DH.60 Moth which was used as a demonstrator by de Havilland’s agent in Johannesburg. It was flown to Tabora by Major Meintjes of the South African Air Force, arriving 19 April. Further arrangements were made with de Havilland to exchange this second airplane for a third, DH.60 G-EBTG, at Cape Town.
Lady Bailey departed Tabora on 21 April and continued to Broken Hill, Northern Rhodesia, where she became ill. After four days there, she continued on to Livingstone, then Bulawayo, and finally, Cape Town. Her solo journey had taken 52 days. Lady Bailey said that ‘Anybody who can drive an auto could do it. My flight was long but uneventful, and not extraordinarily difficult. In fact, my only difficulty was when my machine was locked up in Cairo.’

After several months at Cape Town, Lady Bailey continued her round trip solo flight by returning to London with her DH.60 Moth, G-EBTG via Malta. The return trip covered over 18,000 miles (28,970 kilometres). These were the longest solo flights and the longest flights by a woman up to that time.
Lady Bailey was twice awarded the Harmon Trophy. In 1930, she was created Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. During World War II, The Hon. Dame Mary Bailey, DBE, served with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force with the rank Section Officer. She died on 29 July 1960, at the age of 70.

Air Vice-Marshal Sir Sefton Brancker

During the South African War from 1899 to 1900 he served in the Orange Free State, Transvaal, Orange River Colony and Cape Colony, being wounded in action. Whilst serving in India he was responsible for the unloading of aircraft and equipment of the Bristol and Colonial Aeroplane Co. expedition which arrived in India to demonstrate the new art of flying. He was allowed to fly during these demonstrations as an observer and was soon involved in manoeuvres, which showed him the advantages of aerial reconnaissance. Whilst working at the War Office under General David Henderson, he learnt to fly, gaining Royal Aero Club Certificate No.525 on 16 June 1913, later taking the short course at the CFS and being appointed to the RFC Reserve. Left in Britain at the start of WW1 he was responsible for supply and equipment as well as finding the resources to provide further squadrons for the front in France. When Henderson returned to the War Office, Brancker was able to move to France.


Never a particularly good pilot, he was however, an excellent administrator. One day as a Major-General he was carrying out a tour of inspection and made a poor landing at the airfield in question. Walking away from the aircraft, he was accosted by a junior instructor who, unable to see his rank badges under his coat admonished him for his poor performance and ordered him to go up a again and practice. Brancker promptly did as he was told and only revealed who he was on his return. Having given evidence to the Smuts Inquiry he found himself ‘demoted’ to Acting Deputy Director-General of Military Aeronautics and then sent to the Middle East as GOC. However with the passing of the Air Force Act and the formation of the Air Ministry, Brancker found himself back in the UK and a member of the newly formed Air Council as Controller-General of Equipment.

   With the cessation of hostilities and the general run-down of the RAF, he decided to retire with the intention of developing commercial aviation and together with Brigadier-General Festing he formed Air Transport & Travel. Appointed Controller of Civil Aviation in 1922, he remained dedicated to the development of civil air routes across the empire utilizing both aircraft and airships.

   On 22 December 1926 two Imperial Airways Hercules G-EBMY with the Director of Civil Aviation and G-EBMW arrived at Hal Far en route for the Middle East. They left for Homs before daylight the following morning. G-EBMX with the Secretary of State for Air, Lady Maude Hoare and Air Vice-Marshal Sir Geoffrey Salmond on board, arrived at Hal Far on 29 December and despite stormy weather left the next morning. This visit by these three de Havilland DH.66 Hercules, G-EBMW (cn 236), G-EBMX (cn 237) and G-EBMY (cn 238) was given much prominence in the local papers. The Daily Malta Chronicle of 21 December reported: ‘The first of the two aeroplanes belong to the Imperial Airways which are flying from London to Cairo to be allotted to the Cairo-Karachi air service to be inaugurated on New Year’s Day…is carrying Maj Gen Sir Sefton Brancker, the Director of Civil Aviation in the Air Ministry; Air Commodore and Mrs Weir and three other passengers…the second machine piloted by Capt Hinchcliffe, left Croydon on 20 December and is carrying eight passengers…both will land at Hal Far aerodrome.’ Another newspaper, the Malta Herald of 30 December added that Sir Sefton’s aircraft ‘arrived at Malta at 11.00am, escorted by six RAF machines. The airliner landed at Hal Far aerodrome. It reached here only 1.5 hours before the second Hercules machine…The actual flying time from London to Malta was 15 hrs 2 mins’. The third aircraft arrived on 29 December carried the Secretary of State for Air, Sir Samuel Hoare and Mrs Hoare; Air Vice-Marshal Sir Geoffrey Salmond and Maj Bullock.

   It was in this capacity that he found himself on the inaugural flight off the R101 airship from Cardington to India. Sir Sefton Brancker died shortly after 2am on the morning of 5 October 1930, when the R101 hit the Beavais Ridge in France and burst into flames killing 48 crew and passengers (only six survived). The accident not only destroyed the R101 but also put an end to further British Airship development.

Lord John Carbery

One of the earliest Irish pilots is John Evans-Freke, Baron Carbery of Freke Castle, County Cork (or just John Carberry as he later became known). He obtained his foreign Aviator’s Certificate, accredited by the Royal Aero Club, from Aéro-Club de France on 5 September 1913.

   He was educated at Eton and Harrow and later became a member of the Naval Air Force in WWI. It is believed that he flew the first aircraft to land in Ireland. On 20 June 1914, he crashed his Bristol Scout during a race from London to Manchester.


When he moved to Kenya he imported the first privately owned aircraft to that country in 1926 and set up his own landing strip; the aircraft was a DH.51 named ‘Miss Kenya’ and first flew in Africa on 4 April 1926. It is now housed at the Shuttleworth Museum in the U.K. (It is stated in the Shuttleworth Collection Records, that an aircraft currently in their collection, a de Havilland DH.51, was built in 1925 and shortly after John Evans Carberry bought and shipped it to Mombasa.)

   In June 1928, Tom Campbell Black, G. Skinner and A. Hughes bought the aircraft and on 10 September 1928, it became the first aircraft to be registered in Kenya. Named ‘Miss Kenya’, it was first registered G-KAA, but with the change in the registration system, it was re-registered VP-KAA. Unknown to many, the story of Kenya’s aviation industry did not start in Nairobi but in Rumuruti.

   Seeing the great potential there was in flying the wealthy around, Carberry registered a new company, Kenya Aircraft Company Ltd, and bought a second aircraft, which he christened ‘Miss Africa’.

Herbert John Louis Hinkler

Bert Hinkler was born in Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia on 8 December 1892, the son of John William Hinkler, a Prussian-born stockman, and his wife Frances Atkins (née Bonney) Hinkler. In his childhood, Hinkler would observe Ibis flying near a lake at his school. After gaining an understanding on the principles of flight, he constructed and flew two gliders on beaches near his home town. He later met Arthur Burr Stone, at a travelling show in Bundaberg and again at the Brisbane Exhibition where Hinkler worked with Stone to solve a problem with the ‘Blériot’, the world’s first monoplane. In 1913, Hinkler went to England where he worked for the Sopwith Aviation Company, the beginning of his career in aviation.

   With the outbreak of World War One, Hinkler volunteered to join the Royal Naval Air Service in England as a mechanic and armaments Petty Officer. Hinkler didn’t stop there and some few months later he took up training to become an observer/gunner. He used to fly in the rear cockpit of the Sopwith 1½ Strutter with Number 3 Wing of RNAS. The war earned Hinkler the Distinguished Service Medal. Towards the end of the War, Hinkler became a pilot in June 1918 and was posted to 28 Squadron, Royal Air Force with whom he flew missions on the Italian Front with Sopwith Camels.


  When the war ended, Hinkler left the Royal Air Force and in August 1919 he bought an Avro Baby biplane with which he tried to fly from Croydon to Australia in stages. He set out on 31 May 1920 but had to abandon his ambitious journey at Turin where he was refused to continue with his flight eastwards. Nevertheless, the Croydon-Turin flight made Hinkler famous because he managed to fly it solo and without stopping anywhere in between. The Avro Baby he bought was powered with a 35-hp Green engine similar to that used by Edwin Alliot Verdon Roe (later Sir) in his triplane of 1910. Hinkler flew non-stop the Avro 534 Baby (G-EACQ) from Croydon to Turin in Italy covering 650 miles.

   A few months later Hinkler joined the aircraft manufacturing firm, Avro, as a test-pilot. Fascinated as he was with flying, Hinkler succeeded in persuading the owners at Avro to let him take part in a number of the then most popular national air races. Hinkler spent seven years with Avro. While he was busy with these races, Hinkler was still determined to fly solo to Australia.

   In 1927 Hinkler bought his own Avro Avian and he carried out some modifications on the biplane to suit the requirements for long distance flights. On 2 February 1928 Hinkler embarked on his greatest solo flight, an 11,000-mile journey from England to Australia in which he managed to reduce the previous record time of 28 days by 13 days and a half to 15 days and a half. It was this record-breaking journey that brought Hinkler to Malta and for this island to be a protagonist in the history of flight.

   The Daily Malta Chronicle of 11 February 1928 reported the event by giving details about his flight to Malta. ‘Bert Hinkler, Australian airman, arrived here rather unexpectedly on Wednesday (8 February) at 3.00pm having completed a non-stop flight from Rome in just over six hours and left again for Benghazi on Thursday (9 February) at 7.50am. Hinkler, who left Croydon on 7 February, is attempting to make a solo flight to his home in Bundaberg, Queensland Australia in less than 28 days, which was the time taken by Smith brothers (the late Sir Ron and Sir Keith) in 1919. He is flying a light Cirrus air-cooled engine of 30-hp nominal and 80-hp actual. Hinkler has no fixed timetable, but he intends to reach Port Darwin in 18 days. As average speed of his small machine is only 80mph, the flight will be a severe test of endurance for the pilot as well as for the engine and machine.’

   Hinkler’s arrival at Hal Far aerodrome was also reported by The Malta Herald of 9 February 1928: ‘Mr Bert Hinkler flying to Australia in an Avro Avian aeroplane (G-EBOV Avro 581 Avian) landed at Hal Far Aerodrome at 3pm yesterday (8 February) afternoon, having completed a non-stop flight from Rome in just over six hours. He left for Benghazi at 7.50am this morning.’

   The Avro 581 Avian G-EBOV (c/n 5116) employed by Hinkler for his solo flight was a prototype. It was built for the British newspaper Daily Mail. This two-seater biplane made its first flight on September 8, 1926, and was used for trial flights at Lympne later that month. It was initially powered by a 75-hp Armstrong Siddeley Genet engine. The aircraft’s tail had what was then a characteristic of Avro’s planes, a circular rudder together with square-cut wingtips. At the Lympne trials of September 1926 sponsored by Daily Mail, Avro Avian G-EBOV was flown by Bert Hinkler. He was placed second in three of the six trials held to test two-seater light planes. Following repairs to its magneto drive, Hinkler won the £200 prize in a race sponsored by the motor industry.

   Another modification was made in early 1927 when G-EBOV was fitted with an 80-hp ADC Cirrus I engine as well as additional centre-section struts and a triangular fin. Hinkler flew the modified Avian in a race held at the Bournemouth Easter Meeting. In September 1927, Hinkler flew this biplane again on a long-distance flight from Croydon to Riga in Latvia without stopping anywhere.

   Having successfully completed this flight, Hinkler embarked on what was to become a historic flight, that from Croydon to Port Darwin in Australia. His machine, G-EBOV today is on display at Brisbane Museum.

Hinkler’s Avro Avian with its Cirrus engine had a range of 325 miles and could fly up to 15,000 ft above the ground. With these limitations during his Croydon-Australia 11,000-mile flight, Hinkler had to stop at Rome, Malta, Benghazi, Palestine, Jask, Karachi, Calcutta, Rangoon, Penang, Singapore and Bima before reaching Port Darwin on 22 February 1928. The whole journey took 134 flying hours. For his courageous endeavour, Hinkler was awarded the Air Force Cross and an honorary commission as Squadron Leader in the Royal Australian Air Force. Hinkler also won £10,000 in subscribed prizes and the Britannia Trophy the Royal Aero Club.

   Another historic flight by Hinkler was that of 1931 when he flew from Toronto in Canada to South America, across the South Atlantic to West Africa and then to England. The whole project started in October and ended on 7 December 1931. It was during this round the world trip that Hinkler broke several records. He flew from New York to Jamaica non-stop. He covered 1,600 miles in 18 hours 15 minutes. From Jamaica, Bert Hinkler flew to Natal in Brazil. On 26 November 1931 he set up another record by flying solo from Natal to Bathurst in West Africa, hence crossing the South Atlantic. The Natal-Bathurst trip took Hinkler 22 hours. From Bathurst Hinkler flew back to the UK, covering a total distance 10,560 miles in his de Havilland DH.80A Puss Moth, CF-APK. This British-built Puss Moth became the first Canadian-registered aeroplane to land in the UK under its own power when Hinkler landed at Hanworth from Madrid on 7 December 1931 at the end of his solo journey.

   In 1933, Hinkler planned to fly again the England-Australia route with the aim of reducing his own record of 15 days-and-a-half. He managed to start his journey on 7 January 1933 with DH80A Puss Moth CF-APK from England. Reports at the time said that Hinkler managed to cross the Alps near Mount Cenis west of Turin. The same reports said the Hinkler then flew straight to La Spezia and crossed Tuscany on his way to the Apennines. When he arrived near Prato Magno Alps, during the night of 7 January, Hinkler flew through a snow storm and eventually crashed. He died on the spot. His body was recovered four months later on April 28 by a group of charcoal-burners. Hinkler’s remains were buried in Florence on 1 May 1933 with full military honours.

Captain Charles Douglas Barnard

In 1930 Charles Barnard was intent on flying solo and non-stop from London to Malta. Barnard had served with the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War, and his first post-war appointment was as a test pilot with the Sopwith Aviation Co. Ltd. In 1920 he joined the de Havilland Aircraft Co. Ltd and during his seven years with the company he undertook some spectacular pioneer flights, including London to Denmark. With flying in his blood he was engaged on several long-range tours flying Her Grace the Duchess of Bedford in a Fokker VIIA G-EBTS, and after that Barnard subsequently flew de Havilland DH.9s.

   His first attempt to reach Malta was made on 19 May 1923 when he flew in from London in two days, stopping en route at Paris, Lyon, Pisa and Naples in a de Havilland aircraft registered GEBD. Accompanied by Commander C K Borissow who was representing The Ocean Salvage and Towing Company Ltd, he landed at Hal Far airfield. The flight was undertaken in connection with the salvage of the stricken S.S. D’Aosta which, however, had been refloated before their arrival. Although this was more of a tour than a direct record attempt, the two-day duration of the flight had established an unofficial England-Malta record that was destined to stay for seven years until broken by Barnard himself.


It appears that in his 1923 flight Barnard, who described Hal Far as a very fine aerodrome and an excellent landing place, had established another record since he was the first airman to use the new airfield by flying into it from a foreign country. He flew out the next day, 22 May using the same route. In July 1930 Barnard began a long series of record-breaking flights in a DH.80A Puss Moth G-AAXW cabin monoplane. Registered in June 1930 and fitted with a Gipsy III engine, G-AAXW was unique in that it was the only aircraft in Europe fitted with a system of push-pull single cable for control, not only of the engine but also of the rudder, elevator and ailerons.

   This aircraft was a flight demonstrator for Arens Controls Ltd and its first overseas trip was another attempt by Barnard to half the existing England-Malta air record set by himself seven years earlier. An agreement was reached between Messrs. Lewis and Barnard Ltd and Arens Controls Ltd. On 31 July 1930 Barnard took off Puss Moth G-AAXW from Lympne aerodrome, in Kent, England, at dawn for a non-stop solo flight to Malta.

   For the journey the aircraft was fitted with an extra fuel tank in the fuselage. By keeping compass course for Genoa, during which he encountered rather bad visibility, he continued his route over Naples and Syracuse – where conditions greatly improved – before he arrived in Malta. He effected a perfect landing at Hal Far aerodrome at 5.15 in the afternoon, 13 hours after having left Lympne, a distance of 1,400 miles (2,255 km). Barnard carried with him letters to the Maltese Prime Minister Lord Strickland from the Rt. Hon. J.H. Thomas, MP, and Air Marshal Sir Sefton Brancker. He also carried London newspapers of the previous day, then something as yet unheard of.

   Captain Barnard’s flight, besides proving the qualities of this new type of light plane and its novel type of controls, showed also the ease by which Malta could be reached by air from England, and easier still by larger commercial airliners. Barnard regarded this event as an important event in Malta’s aviation history – to which we all subscribe – for it may well have proven to be the catalyst for the eventual linking of Malta to the United Kingdom by a regular air service.

   Puss Moth G-AAXW and Barnard left Hal Far the following day, 1 August, at 4.40 in the morning and returned directly to Croydon, London, at 6.20 in the afternoon, almost fourteen hours later. He had flown non-stop in each direction, covering the distance of 2,800 miles (4,510 km) in 27 flying hours. This had halved the previous England-Malta-England record which he himself had set in 1923. Barnard’s flight in world aviation events may have been somewhat eclipsed by the publicity meted out to Amy Johnson’s England-Australia solo flight the previous May, but to Malta the episode is of outstanding importance due to the Island’s erstwhile dependence on sea and land routes to England.

   The DH.80A Puss Moth was one in a long line of de Havilland light aircraft that was to culminate later into the more famous Tiger Moth. Developed to provide cabin comfort in private light aircraft, the prototype Puss Moth was first flown, as the DH.80, at Stag Lane on 9 September 1929, introducing the inverted de Havilland Gipsy II engine which improved the pilot’s forward view. Its slab-sided plywood-covered fuselage accommodated the pilot and two passengers behind him.

   The production aircraft incorporated fabric-covered, welded steel-tube fuselage, a novelty for de Havilland, and were powered by the 120-hp Gipsy III, later models even having the 130-hp Gipsy Major. The Puss Moth featured in a number of pioneering flights besides Captain Barnard’s London-Malta solo non-stop one of 1930. Barnard himself, in G-AAXW, made the journey Lympne-Tangier-Croydon in 21 hours 25 minutes on 25/26 August 1930.

   After the London-Malta-London and London-Tangier-London flights of 1930, Captain Barnard and his brother Flt Lt Kenneth Hamilton left Lympne on 27 October 1931 en route to Australia in G-AAXW. The aircraft was damaged in a forced landing at Tullin, Vienna, and they returned to Britain on 2 November.


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